Another Incident of a Man Exposing Himself/Masturbating on the Streets in Columbia Heights

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A reader sends a note they sent to MPD:

Today, while walking on 11th street between Harvard and Columbia Road with my 12 week old daughter, a man crept out from behind a tree and began masturbating while looking at us. Keep in mind this is a block from the Harriet Tubman playground. I quickly walked away (and did not confront him due to the fact that I was strolling my infant) and about 15 seconds later, while still having him in sight, I called 911. The dispatcher was great and asked all the right questions (what happened, description, etc.). As I was talking to her the man began walking, and then running, south on 11th and then headed east on Harvard. He was wearing a light business shirt (I think light blue or white…and I think it was collared). And he was wearing a bright red backpack. I left my name and number with the dispatcher. After hanging around for 5-10 more minutes it seemed as though there was no police response, which is more than a little disturbing.

This same thing happened to me when first moving to the Columbia Heights neighborhood in 2008 (I actually think it may be the same clean-cut looking young man). Again, police did not respond to the scene. Moreover, in 2006 when I was a law firm summer associate living on Capitol Hill, a man pulled up in a truck to ask for directions. After asking for several direction clarifications I noticed he was masturbating. I promptly called the police because I had his license plate number! A few hours later the police responded to my home and didn’t even take notes, but instead said obnoxious things such as “I suppose you are going to tell me he is black” and “Why did it take you so long to notice what he was doing.” Again, at that time I had the license plate number, the police told me that the truck matched a description from other similar complaints in the neighborhood, and I was never contacted again. Nor was I given the opportunity to file a police report.

Overall, I am absolutely appalled by the flippant attitude the DC police seem to have toward men that expose themselves and/or masturbate publicly. It is threatening behavior and no more innocuous than actually grabbing a victim. Moreover, that kind of behavior often leads to physical assaults. For example, just this week in NYC’s Central Park, a man who had previously been seen masturbating in the area brutally raped and beat a woman that viewed him. See here. I worry it is going to take a situation like that to get the Department to take such threats seriously.

Please let me know what the DC police are doing about following up on such threatening behaviors. My experience sounds very similar to those in the Prince of Petworth postings. See
here and here.

57 Comment

  • Reminds me of the alley next to the health clinic on 14th in CH. Men relieving themselves in broad daylight. Not as serious as masturbating, perhaps, but why aren’t the police stopping these basic quality of life crimes in the heart of the neighborhood? Can’t the police smell the stench?

    • +1 It has been smelling very pissy lately

      • near that spot

      • Since Highland Park cleared up the alley behind that stretch of 14th street as smelled like pee, it is gross and I can’t understand why the Police do nothing about it

        • I live in the building next to this alley. It’s disgusting. Nearly every day I see a couple of cops sitting in an unmarked car just outside the metro, near the vehicle entrance for Highland Park, yet these guys do nothing. We need beat cops who walk, not those who sit in cars and wait for a call. I’ve written to Graham’s office about this several times, and while I get a quick response, nothing substantive ever happens.

          Quality of Life arrests is what Columbia Heights needs.

    • +10000. It’s disgusting that it takes place just a few hundred feet from the metro. I wish there was a big camera on that alley way with a sign saying “we can see you peeing.”

    • Our apartment is right in front of an alley and I frequently spot men urinating on walls, fences, etc. in broad daylight and later at night. Just the other day, as I approached the sidewalk, a man who was standing there in the alley yelled about how he’s just trying to take a piss and people keep disturbing him, blah blah blah. Yeah it’s disturbing, all right!

      • Emmaleigh504

        Gross. That reminds me of 1 day I was headed home at rush hour and the metro station manager ran out yelling at some guy to stop peeing in front of the station. The peeing man said, aw man, I’m just trying to pee. that’s all it too for the station manager turned and go back to the station to let the man pee in peace in full view of everyone. ugh.

    • The worst is when it rains and you have to hop over the peewater running to the curb

  • To the OP. So how exactly did you describe this man to the police?

  • I run in the neighborhood several times a week by myself, so hearing about another incident is frightening. This may sound like a dumb question, but what is the safe/appropriate response to the situation? To run away? Walk slowly?

    • I personally would call 911 while trying to simultaneously walk away but also keep my eye on the guy so when the police arrive I can point him out. That may or may not actually happen based on how threatened I feel, but that’s the best-case scenario in my head.

      • That is exactly what I did. I tried to be stealthy about it, since with my infant. But otherwise started dialing pretty much immediately, while casually keeping my eye on him. I was able to give the dispatcher a play-by-play on what he was doing until he ran away and turned the corner.

  • I understand its frustrating to wait for the police and five minutes feels like a really long time when you’re just waiting… but it’s crucial to wait until the police arrive so you can describe the person. Hell he may just have gone around the corner and you could point him out.

    It’s frustrating to wait but I bet it’s also frustrating for the police to show up and find no complainant and have nothing to go on.

    At the very least leave your callback number so the responding officer can try to get in touch with you again.

  • Holy sh** that is right by my house! Can you give more info – what time of day? Age of the guy, etc? There are always shady characters hanging out in the alleys up and down 11th st. There was even one sitting on the stoop of the house next door to mine this morning when I left for work. This guy sounds like a real animal.

  • I’d recommend trying to get a photo of the perp someday if you can do it safely. In the meantime, email the District Commander and CC the Assistant Police Chief and demand better responsiveness to this serious concern.

  • There was one in Glover Park this week as well and also within a block of an elementary school. The email on the list serv said the guy claimed to be mentally ill and a registered sex offender – Joy!

  • I was the author of this post. I did leave my name and phone number with the dispatcher and told her I was more than happy to ID the man, or assist the police in any way. I hung around at a safe (what is really safe?) distance for quite a while, but again had a 12 week old with me so didn’t feel as though sticking around was a great idea.
    The man was an African American with a medium-dark complexion. He seemed rather young — mid twenties to mid thirties. He was wearing a red backpack and light business shirt. He looked rather cleancut–so I didn’t expect to see his penis.
    The incident occurred at about 9:30 this morning (9/13/12).

    • Contact your PSD’s Lieutenant; you’ll find them more responsive. Often they post and read the neighbourhood listservs, so you should be able to get in touch w/ him/her there.

      I know the PSD 301 (ANC 1C, Adams-Morgan/Kalorama) Lieutenant is reachable via the A-M listserv. Also, your council member can push the issue, and they are usually happy to, if you contact them or their office.

    • Thank you for the more complete description. I live in the area as well. Will keep my eye out.

    • Hi,
      This happened to me today too while I was walking on 11th street at 9:10 am, I was right between Irving and Kenyon. I was rushing to the bus stop and this man with the same description had his penis out while he walked by me. I was so disturbed and shocked, not sure what to do, and was still trying to process what happened and just ended up going to work. My friend forwarded this post to me a few hours after I told her about it and I am going to file a police report as soon as I get off work.

  • I’m very sorry this happened to you. Is there anything we can do? Who should we email or call?

  • The Kony 2012 guy lives in Col Hts. Now… I think it’s a credible lead.

  • Omg, the SAME thing happened to me in Capitol Hill in 2009. Guy in a truck drove up to me, I thought he was asking for directions but I couldn’t hear what he was saying, and when I kept asking him to repeat himself he jerked his hips up and his penis was flapping about. It was in the morning and I was hungover, so I was a little slow to process and didn’t get a chance to get his license plate number. DISGUSTING.

  • Just felt the need to address the police experience with a flip side.

    About a year ago I looked out of the window of my English basement apartment in Capitol Hill to see a man very clearly masturbating, standing inside the small fenced garden and very close to my window. I picked up my phone immediately and dialed 911. Police were at my door in less than three minutes. They patrolled the neighborhood, even went into the alley behind my apartment, made sure no one was in the back yard, etc. and were extremely helpful and even at some points apologetic that they didn’t get there sooner.

    They’re not all bad, and some of them take these kinds of things very seriously. Let’s not paint them all with the same brush.

    • Jen–I totally agree. I didn’t mean to make it sound like the entire police department could care less about this issue. It just has happened to me three times with a similar response, so I’ve now gotten thoroughly annoyed.

      • My roommate has seen this SAME guy at least 3 times, and called the police each time. Last time she wrote a letter to Cathy Lanier. It’s getting more serious, and I hope the police actually start actively looking for this guy.

    • There is a huge difference in response time of Capitol Hill police vs Columbia Heights police….just sayin

      • No experience with Hill police but we had an insane homeless guy who locked himself in the bathroom of our restaurant in CH for nearly 30min. I called 911 and after he nearly assaulted us with his cane (and customers) the police showed up after he left.
        I know they hang out near the Metro and 14th and Columbia, see em every day. Why did it take 30 min for them to show up?!!?

    • I did try to post it to the MPD3D listserve. The administrator has to approve it first, and that hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully it will appear soon!

  • being appalled by one thing doesn’t negate being appalled by other things.

  • You are kidding right? I dont think the original poster is trying to minimize violent crime. But yes, its appalling to think of men masturbating in public and even more vile that in close proximity to large groups of children playing outside. Pedophilia is one of the most serious crimes out there. Most violent crimes and assualts begin with what people like you seem to think is benign behavior that slowly escalates over time.

  • I was flashed several years ago in Montgomery County – pressed charges, went to court, the whole deal. The flasher was a 16 year old high school drop-out. When I saw him in court in an oversized suit with his parents, I felt horrible that I was putting him through this, but the then police officer’s words kept ringing my ears – “Today’s flashers are tomorrow’s rapists.” I always remember that and will not hesitate to prosecute again.

    • figby

      I am really glad you did that. I hate to think how traumatic this would be for a young girl. Bad enough for adults. And the escalation factor is scary.

  • Silly, silly straight men!

  • notes to the police should probably be shorter. then they could have more time to do police work. moreover, the fact you were a law firm summer associate living on capitol hill in 2006 is unnecessary and wordy. moreover moreover, the whole incident that happened when you were a law firm summer associate living on capitol hill in 2006 doesnt really help the cops fix the current situation

    • Thanks for your insight, dave b. I, however, believe that a similar incident where police received the LICENSE PLATE of the perpetrator and refused to follow up sheds a fair amount of light on how the DC police view this issue.

    • Wordy? You said “moreover” three times in your post.

  • Same thing happened to me twice a few years ago, both on/around New Hampshire Ave. in Dupont: man stopped and ask for direction, I was talking and explaining the best route and then he asked more clarifications, and then I noticed what he was doing. Both incidents happened at night and I was unable to jot the license plate. My mistake is that I never reported either event, mostly out of apathy that the police wouldn’t do anythig. I should have at least tried!

    • My previous comment was poorly written since I wrote it so quickly! The man in the car was masturbating. Both times it was a man in a car (sedan type car, not a truck). Both incidents happened around 2006-2008. I don’t recall what the man/men looked like (hair, age, skin, facial hair) but I do remember my reaction the second time around… I said outloud, “AGAIN!?!?” and walked away. I want to say that it could have been the same person in both incidents. Both incidents happened at night (one around 11pm, can’t remember when the second one happened).

  • It is unfortunate that the OP had to suffer both expeirences–one with the perpetrator and another with the police. My advice to you…try not to rely heavily on MPD. Do you live within a mile of Rock Creek Park or any other Federal park in DC? Typically, Federal police services like Park Service Police, US Capitol Police, are able to respond to household calls that are within a mile of the territory they typically protect–but I might be wrong because the myriad Federal police services have different rules. Your advantage with the Federal cops is that they almost always let you file a police report. They may pass-on the case file to DC MPD, but at least you have an official record of the crime committed.
    Just as an observation in my decade in this town, I’ve noticed that the Federal uniformed police tend to treat residents with a higher degree of decorum. It may be because they don’t respond to household calls all that often, so they don’t become jaded from responding to every (seemingly insignificant and un-investigatable to them perhaps) domestic call for burglaries, sexual deviancy, etc like a city cop might.
    Research those Federal police departments that may be able to respond to where you live, depending on the distance. I know people who live on Capitol Hill who keep the Capitol Police dispach number in their phones, versus calling 911.

  • If i were you, I’d direct an email to Councilman Graham and/or the police via one of the neighborhood listserves. That puts it out there in a public forum where everyone can see the response (or lack thereof).

  • I hesitated in replying to this thread because of what comments might be made after I post. But after reading the OP- I felt compelled to, as I identify so much with her experiences. A lot of what I’m about to say doesn’t have an actionable or reasonable answer, and I realize this. I’m just saying it because I need to, and in the hopes that it might help educate women on how dangerous their surroundings can be (however unfortunate that is)

    In early January this year I was the victim of attempted sexual assault in my building in Mount Pleasant, the Majestic. The man waited for me to enter my building and chased me up 5 flights of stairs, the entire time his penis exposed, as he was trying to grab me. Luckily, I was able to fight him off and eventually yelled loud enough (Fire! Fire!) that neighbors in the building opened their door and pulled me inside their apartment. My angels.

    I have no doubt that this man was someone who has a similar behavior record as the public masturbator in the OP. And as the OP stated, this is the reason we need to call out this type of behavior to the police and in forums/communities like PoP.

    Unfortunately, my experience with the MPD SVU after reporting this situation (immediately) was absolutely horrible. At no point did I feel like I was being taken seriously and they violated my privacy and trust many times, at a time when I already felt exposed and violated. Eventually I was able to voice my concerns to a victims advocate but was sadly told, like so many have said here, that there is really nothing I can do. I can’t help but be angry.
    It seems the only and least thing to do is to be aware of your surroundings and report whenever you see something like this happening.

    Thank you for listening/reading.

  • Sadly I think the lack of caring is common among DC police officers….just yesterday I was riding my bike in CH and a truck ran a stop sign and broad-sided me. The officer who responded to the incident told me that since he didn’t witness the incident, he couldn’t issue a ticket (btw, there was a witness standing on the curb who saw the whole thing). When I challenged him on this he told me that I needed to get used to the way things work in DC (apparently that means tickets aren’t issued unless the police actually witness a crime occurring). Lesson of the story: DC PD is okay with you running all the stop signs you want, running into cars and/or pedestrians, as long as they don’t see you do it!

  • I also have had the experience of a man pulling up beside me in a car, asking for directions, and then I noticed he was masturbating. I wish I could unsee this and I am now wary of any man in a car asking for directions or calling out to me in any way.

  • I’ve had many similar experiences living in DC. I work near Franklin Park and that place seems to be a magnet for public masturbators. I once caught two men masturbating while looking at me in that park within 48 hours. It sucks that a woman can’t feel safe to eat lunch in a park near her office in broad daylight and that the police don’t take these kinds of crimes seriously. A man like that doesn’t have to touch a woman to make her feel violate or degraded in a way that we shouldn’t put up with in this city.

    One time, this dude literally just whipped his dick out in the middle of the park and started peeing. Not on a tree, not behind a bench, in the middle of the freaking open air. I was shocked and pointed it out to other people around me and they looked at me like I was crazy and didn’t even acknowledge what I was saying. What’s wrong with people? There are kids in that park sometimes.

  • I live on the 13th and Monroe block and my car was stolen August 28th. The car was parked behind my house in the driveway under my deck. The criminal was able to get into my house somehow, grab my keys and drive away. A police report was filed immediately however the only correspondence between myself and the police since then have been the speeding tickets they continue to mail me as my dear friend driving my car has a heavy foot. It’s a shame that we have to worry about people in our neighborhoods who have no problem committing such crimes. It’s also a shame that our local officials seem to be more concerned with generating revenue than catching the scumbags. Good luck fellow Columbia Heights dwellers.

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